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Pet custody battles on the increase

THE AS MARRIAGES break up amid acrimony and tears with increasing frequency, fights have traditionally centred around money, children, or even who gets to keep the cutlery. But, increasingly, squabbling over goods and chattels is being replaced by legal battles over who gets custody of the pets.

More time is now spent fighting over custody of cats and dogs than over furniture or the hi-fi, according to research published this week.

A survey of the UK’s top 100 family lawyers reveals that judges are recognising the importance of pets in break-ups. Warring couples were awarded joint custody in more than a third of cases last year, compared with just under a quarter the year before.

This trend has come to Britain from the US, where custody of pets has been a key issue in splits between celebrities. These include Drew Barrymore, who fought with ex-husband Tom Green over their dog, Flossie. Women still win massively over men in claiming exclusive rights over their pets. In more than 59 per cent of cases, wives gained sole custody of their pets, compared with only four per cent of husbands.

Grant Thornton, a financial consultancy which carried out the research, said a pet is considered part of the family especially as fewer couples were choosing to have children. ‘While many have never heard of custody battles over pets, or may ridicule those who fight over them, in many cases the pet is considered to be part of the family,’ said Andrea McLaren, head of Grant Thornton’s London matrimonial practice.

England is now the best country for women to get divorced, because of a shift in attitude among judges, which in turn has led to record payouts for wives… and pets look set to become an increasing part of the settlement package. However, men are said to be fighting back and are literally shopping around for the best deal to prevent such high judgements against them.

Grant Thornton said it expected to see a rise in ‘jurisdiction shopping’ - the worldwide hunt for the best deal.